- New West Anchor
- Longtime New West resident gets day in her honour
Longtime New West resident gets day in her honour
Why Shawn Bayes Day is happening on May 12
Shawn Bayes at Woolwerx. 📸 EFry
Few New Westminster residents have had a day named after them, but on May 12, Shawn Bayes will become one of those rare few.
Shawn Bayes Day will be held to honour the many accomplishments she has achieved during her long career both in New West and nationally.
The day falls on the same day Bayes will be retiring as CEO at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver (EFry) where she has spent nearly 40 years working tirelessly to change the lives of vulnerable community members. EFry is a non-profit organization that provides support for girls and women who have encountered the justice system; the group aims to break the cycles of poverty and addiction.
As Bayes spoke to New West Anchor, you could hear the emotion in her voice as she described what life will look like after retirement.
“I think I'm going to miss the people most...I’ve been here a long time, and I've been with a number of people for a very long time. We have three staff I was cozy with because I’ve worked with them for over 31 years,” she said.
Bayes started at EFry in 1985 as a youth counsellor, and in 1997 she was promoted to CEO, a role that she has held for 26 years.
For Bayes, one of the most important aspects of the organization is that it is female-led and has almost an entirely female staff out of its nearly 500 employees.
“Women tend to be very process-oriented. We care about relationships with other people. So, I think because we care about each other, we care about the work, and we're committed to the work. It's really a very collaborative place to work and a really cooperative place to work,” she explained.
During her time as CEO, Bayes oversaw and spearheaded several different programs that had not only a community impact but gained worldwide renown for the ways they provided support to vulnerable communities.
With a focus on helping previously incarcerated women re-enter society, Bayes helped to develop programs like Woolwerx and Asphalt Gals, which provide incarcerated women with jobs after release to help with societal reintegration.
Shawn Bayes and Mayor Patrick Johnstone at city council 📸 Ria Renouf
Another one of Bayes’ most celebrated programs is JustKids, which provides support and resources to the children of incarcerated parents. Bayes says they are an under-supported group in the justice system.
“I started to work in the prisons, and that’s when I think I began to become aware that no one ever talks about the children of prisoners. Nobody ever provides resources or programming for them. They’re just kind of forgotten,” said Bayes.
When Bayes was invited to a master of management program at McGill alongside many other Canadian non-profit sector leaders, she was able to make JustKids a reality.
“[Children of incarcerated parents] have a greater likelihood than most other children of finding themselves in conflict with the law. And that just seems such a profound waste of every child’s potential. Just because we didn’t think about them or provide them support or recognize the problems they’re in,” said Bayes.
Despite her retirement, Bayes doesn’t see the EFry’s progress slowing down. She will be replaced as CEO by Alison Dantas.
Bayes sees this as an opportunity for EFry to take advantage of the current societal conversations happening around intersectionality and justice.
“I believe that [Alison] has a really remarkable opportunity because for 80-some years, we’ve been pushing against the current and I think it’s finally starting to go in the direction that would allow EFry to develop specific programs that can address the needs of women and some of these intergenerational issues,” said Bayes.
After a long career in providing social support to vulnerable communities, Bayes has been recognized in many different ways. For her, however, the importance is not on being recognized but on what people are recognizing her for.
“That’s really what all my work is about, being able to, in some ways, tell a story that other people can understand and commit to and say, ‘Yeah, that’s important. And I’ll work on that.’ Whether you’re trying to get the government to change policy or people to care for programs or funders to give you money, that’s what it’s about,” she said.
The next step for Bayes is to take some well-deserved time with her family and explore new, fun things. She cautions she may not be able to stay still for too long.
As for May 12, Bayes hopes people will reflect on the relationships that they build with others around them, as well as the connections they build with their communities.
“I think the challenge for all of us, every day, is about how we include our neighbours in our lives. (...). Because ultimately, that’s what keeps us safe. That’s what lets children grow up to be healthy and well-adjusted. And that's what lets elders feel supported to age in place and feel safe in their homes and walking the streets.”